A Guide to Hiking the Zion Narrows

Zion Narrows: Trail Maps

Hikers in Zion Narrows are all headed to the same slender slot canyon – hence the name "Narrows" -- but there are a few different options for getting there. Because the trail to the Narrows is essentially the river, much of the journey is spent submerged in water, which may be knee or chest deep in various sections. Though the journey varies based on weather conditions and the river's water level, hikers should plan to swim at least brief portions of the journey. This isn't a problem for most visitors to the Narrows, assuming they know how to swim. The most popular time for hiking in Zion Narrows is between June and August, when the cool waters of the Virgin River offer welcome relief from the blazing summer sun.

The quickest and easiest way to reach the Narrows is to hike from the bottom up beginning at the Temple of Sinawava, which is located at the end of the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive [source: American Southwest]. Hikers reach the Temple of Sinawava by shuttle bus from the visitor's center, and then take an easy footpath called Riverside Walk for about one mile (1.6 kilometers) before meeting the Virgin River [source: Utah Travel Industry]. The "bottom up" trail is ideal for those who want a round-trip day hike to "Wall Street," a particularly picturesque stretch of the trail where the canyon narrows to a mere 25 to 30 feet (7.6 to 9 meters) wide [source: Zion Adventures].

You can also reach Zion Narrows by hiking from the top down starting from Chamberlain's Ranch [source: Utah Travel Industry]. Note that this is a difficult trail meant for experienced hikers in good physical condition. For those up to the challenge, it's more than worth the effort. The "top down" trail is the best way to take in all the spectacular scenery that Zion Narrows has to offer. It is a hike through geologic time where you can see 18 million years of our planet's history set in stone. If choosing this trail, consider an overnight stay. The canyon is beautiful by starlight.

Note that "top-down" hikes require a permit, while "bottom-up" hikes do not. Permits are also based on the water flow in the Narrows. None will be issued when flow rates are above 120 cubic feet per second, so be sure to check conditions before you go [source: Climb Utah].

No matter which trail you decide to take into the Narrows, there are several important considerations for maximizing your hiking experience, including several "must-see" features and a few pitfalls to avoid. We explore these in the next section.